As a child grows in an environment in which his needs and longings for specialness and warm relatedness are consistently frustrated, he begins to turn away from his own needs in depression and shame. We can imagine the young child wondering, What is wrong with me that I get so little response from my mother? The two possible answers are I am too defective and unworthy of love, and there is something wrong with what I am asking for. In both cases, there is something wrong, either with the child himself or with his needs and desires. This experience of unimportance or wrongness is the common relational backdrop for vulnerability and susceptibility to shame.
In early infancy, the baby tends to experience herself andher mother as one, a union. If the mother responds attentively and empathetically to the infant, a life-sustaining function is provided which is felt to be part of thebaby